Basilica Cistern Array

Visit Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern: History, Tips & Highlights

Hey, fellow travelers! If you’re planning a trip to Istanbul, one of the most impressive and somewhat spooky places you must see is the Basilica Cistern. This is no ordinary monument – it’s a whole experience. Therefore, let us pick our cameras and go down into the undergrounds of this ancient miracle.

Basilica Cistern Interior View

Basilica Cistern Interior View

Why Would One Visit The Basilica Cistern?

First things first: why? For those unaware of its local name Yerebatan Sarnıcı, the Basilica Cistern was created in the 6th century AD during the rule of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. It looks like a scene from an Indiana Jones film. Try to picture this; illuminated corridors of towering columns reflected on shallow water basins.

  • Historical Significance: It is a testament to Byzantine engineering. It was built to supply water to the Great Palace at Constantinople and eventually Topkapi Palace as well. Pondering over how such structure has survived over time is intriguing.
  • Atmosphere: What makes it so special? The cool humid air, sound of dripping water and dim light create an isolated place far away from noisy city around it. Besides that, this might be helpful for evading hot sun during summer trips!
  • Medusa Heads: Yeah, you read that right. There are two Medusa heads used as column bases. The mystery of why they’re there and why one is upside down while the other is sideways adds an intriguing mythological twist.
Basilica Cistern Interior View

Basilica Cistern Interior View

How to Visit the Basilica Cistern

All right, let’s cut to the chase. Here is what you need to do so that you can have a memorable experience.

The place: It is situated in Sultanahmet area within Istanbul old city center. Furthermore, it is a stone throw away from other great attractions that will keep you busy throughout the day such as Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque.

Getting there: If you are staying in Sultanahmet, it’s very near. Otherwise, take a tram and stop at “Sultanahmet”. It’s just about 5 minutes’ walk from there.

Working hours and tickets: This place works on a daily basis between 9:00 AM and 6:30 PM. As of 2024 the entrance fee was about $25 (For foreign visitors); however, it is advisable to always check latest prices online or ask your hotel.

Basilica Cistern Gate

Basilica Cistern Gate

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What to Expect:

Entrance: The temperature drops as soon as you step down a short flight of stairs into this cool dark interior.

  • Inside: Huge expanse of this cistern consists of three hundred thirty-six columns. Take your time walking around, taking photographs and breathing in the atmosphere.
  • Medusa Corner: At the back look for Medusa heads. There is usually some crowd here but standing in line for several minutes may be worth it if you want have an opportunity to take better view or picture.
  • Facilities: You will find a small café and gift shop at entrance/exit where one could buy any drink or souvenir item he/she wishes.
Basilica Cistern Inside

Basilica Cistern Inside

Tips for a Great Visit

  • Wear Sneakers: The floor may be a little slippery, so ensure there are some good grips.
  • Come Early or Late: To avoid the masses, come just when it opens or late in the evening.
  • Take Jacket: Even in summer, the inside might still be chilly.
  • Take Your Time: It is not somewhere to hurry through. Take some time to discover and immerse yourself in its rich history and atmosphere.
Basilica Cistern Interior

Basilica Cistern Interior

That’s it! The Basilica Cistern might not make it into every travel guide, but it should do without fail. It is a chunk of antiquity, little bit of enigma and a cool solace away from busy streets of Istanbul. Place that on your must-see in Istanbul list and relish each moment!

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